The worst fears of many small-business owners were realized today as Gov. Roy Cooper again refused to extend to N.C. bars and taverns the same chance to survive as he has afforded wineries, breweries and hotel bars, which reopened two months ago in the coronavirus pandemic.

NCBATA bar owners are committed to keeping their customers and employees safe, and applaud the governor’s new mandate that masks be worn in public. But private bars can enforce that mandate -- and social distancing -- just as well as other businesses serving alcohol can.

Ninety-nine days ago, the governor closed private bars while he has allowed hotel bars, private club bars, winery bars, brewery bars, distillery bars and restaurant bars to operate for months. Originally, Gov. Cooper allowed restaurant bars to open if they earned at least 30 percent of revenues from food sales -- but ordering food with alcoholic beverages is not required under the governor’s May 20 order. Many customers are going to the reopened businesses just to drink.

NCBATA argues that crowds seen lined up to get into restaurant bars on Friday and Saturday nights could be mitigated if they had more places to drink socially distanced rather than standing in line or overcrowding sidewalks.

Private bars in North Carolina are almost all owned by local small-business people, while many of the reopened restaurant and hotel bars belong to national chains, NCBATA points out. For most small business owners, aid from the Federal Payroll Protection Program has run out, and the only relief available now comes in the form of debt -- which many cannot take on when they don’t know when they will reopen.

NCBATA filed a lawsuit June 4 on behalf of 185 businesses to have private bars included under the same reopening safety rules as the reopened bars. The North Carolina Business Court held a hearing on the lawsuit June 19 and a ruling is awaited.

“The Governor’s Office has failed time and again to produce science or data proving that it's more dangerous to have a drink in one of our bars following NCDHHS guidelines as opposed to any of the 6,000 that are currently allowed to operate,” said Medford. “We believe the judge heard our argument and understands our situation. The Governor’s Office should not be in the business of picking winners across an industry while discriminating against a narrow subset. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.”

Public records requests to the Governor’s Office to obtain any specific scientific evidence used to keep private bars closed have gone unanswered.

“Why is it safe and legal to drink until 2 a.m. at 85 percent of North Carolina bars, yet dangerous to behave the same way at a private bar?” Medford asks. “There is nothing inherently different about a private bar or its clientele than a hotel bar, brewery bar, or restaurant bar when held to the same safety guidelines.”

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